A desperate father (Hugo Weaving) takes his ten year old son, Chook (Tom Russell), on the run after committing a violent crime. As the two travel across the South Australian desert and toward an unknown future, their troubled relationship and the need to survive see them battling the elements and each other. Chook eventually takes control and the choices he is forced to make have a devastating effect on both their lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
We're Butch and Sundance, Hugo Weaving's father tells his young son Chook (Tom Russell), but by Chook's nonplussed response ('Who?') it is clear he has never heard of the daring law-breaking pair. Director Glendyn Ivin's feature debut follows his two acclaimed shorts and is a beautifully drawn, moody film filled with poetry, as it describes the troubled relationship between a father and son. It is all at once a road movie and a coming of age story in which murder, curiosity and struggling to survive are key. In what is essentially a two-hander, the ever-excellent Hugo Weaving grounds the ride, while youngster Tom Russell impresses as the boy forced to learn the toughest of life's lessons with no safety net.
Screenwriter Mac Gudgeon's writing is economical and pertinent. We learn crucial information as we go along - little by little. Chook is a normal-enough youngster who fights with imaginary aliens, and has a pull-me push-me relationship with his violent father. Weaving's character is far more complex. He is rough and tough and seems to be a magnet for trouble, never hesitating to use anyone or any situation to his own advantage. Weaving manages to make the character real and despite his severe flaws, enables us to understand him. The joys of the journey are in the people the pair meet along the way. There's Anita Hegh's caring Maryanne (the relationship ended badly), the flying doctor (Sonya Suares) at the Afghan museum and the aboriginal national park warden with his silent mate who can talk but chooses not to: 'Too much jibba jabba humbug'. There are animals too - like the curious camel that peeks into the car where Chook sleeps, and the rabbit that he shoots but cannot bring himself to eat. In flashback, we meet Max (John Brumpton) and discover the circumstances that prompt this last ride.
The long road that winds through the arid landscape seems to lead nowhere. There's a dense forest where trees lean in one direction and a shallow lake through which you can drive into the horizon. There are impromptu campfires and uncomfortable sleepless nights on benches and in cars. Greig Fraser's cinematography captures the bleakness and beauty of every situation in the harsh Australian Flinders Ranges. The music is reminiscent of Sling Blade (composer Daniel Lanois); distinctive, simple and haunting. But most haunting is the relationship between father and son which changes like the sunset, never hinting where it will end.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Glendyn Ivin's natural cinematic flair ensures the smooth transition from text to screen in a story that Mac Gudgeon has scripted with a sparse, raw, slow-burning dynamic. It's a great team, brilliantly aided by the two central performances of relative veteran Hugo Weaving and youngster Tom Russell. Russell's debut is no less promising than was Claudia Karvan's opposite Judy Davis in Gillian Armstrong's High Tide (1987) as a young girl.
Tom Russell's young Chook is an isolated figure whose mother left ages ago and whose father is no role model. When Chook asks him why he was in prison, his dad shrugs it off with a short explanation that begins with 'Well, the last time ...' He beats Chook for small transgressions, as he beat Chook's mother - although he swears that's not why she left them. Hugo Weaving's remarkable acting chemistry forges a character whose amorality and useless nature manage to retain a genuine frail humanity which makes us connect - we can't condone his actions, we see him for what he is: another faulty human.
Chook tries to understand why adults do strange things, sometimes violent things which are unnecessary. His painful learning process drives him to a decision which is the pivot of the story, and it's a credit to the filmmakers that it unfolds with such simple yet powerful strokes and remains entirely credible and well observed. Ultimately, for all its bleak build up, the story's payoff has to deliver something we can hang on to - and it does.
The story of the last ride is told in linear fashion, but its trigger is revealed in a series of flashbacks, a device that ensures holding our attention and ramping up the tension. It's an unhurried pace, yet it feels constantly pressured from the dynamic story and Weaving's complex characterisation. Accompanied by a suitably sparse guitar-driven score reminiscent of a Neil Young work (eg the score for Dead Man), Last Ride is not going to generate huge box office, but it will certainly generate well earned respect and acclaim for its makers.
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HUGO WEAVING & GLENDYN IVIN INTERVIEWS (Audio)
LAST RIDE (M)
CAST: Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell, John Brumpton, Sonya Suares, Adam Morgan, Anita Hegh
PRODUCER: Antonia Barnard, Nicholas Cole
DIRECTOR: Glendyn Ivin
SCRIPT: Mac Gudgeon (novel by Denise Young)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greig Fraser
EDITOR: Jack Hutchings
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Josephine Ford
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 2, 2009